Auburn University prison arts program to expand services, fund pilot project with NEA grant

AUBURN – The Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project, an outreach program in Auburn University’s College of Liberal Arts, has received a grant of $14, 000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to teach art, photography and creative writing in Alabama’s prisons.

Project director Kyes Stevens said the grant will support additional educational programs and materials in correctional facilities and will fund a pilot project with Space One Eleven, a non-profit community arts organization in Birmingham, to offer studio instruction for both previous participants and those now participating in community corrections in Birmingham.

The Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project, housed since early 2008 in Auburn’s Department of Psychology, has enabled more than 900 prisoners over the last six years to learn poetry, creative writing, drawing, multi-media art and photography.

Stevens said that all the major studies by the Department of Justice and other nationally recognized research organizations have shown that the more education someone has while they are incarcerated, the less likely the person is to return to prison.

“I would say there is at least one person in every class who undergoes a huge transformation,” Stevens said. “Our program is very much hinged upon art in education. That’s the driving force: We want people to believe they can learn.”

The NEA grant, one of five grants the project has received since the spring, will help fund new art classes, pay for supplies and provide compensation for artists and scholars who teach the courses. Stevens said that federal grants are particularly rewarding because recipients are selected from a national pool of applicants.

“We would like to develop some more painting classes, possibly pastel and pottery,” Stevens said. “We have a prison that has a ceramics shop and they have kilns. If we can get potter wheels, then we can have a pottery class. It takes more funds to get art classes like that going because art supplies are extraordinarily expensive.”

Other grants include $8,500 from the Alabama Humanities Foundation; $6,080 from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham; $6,000 from the Alabama Arts Car Tag; and $3,000 from the Alabama Civil Justice Foundation.

“Under Kyes’ leadership, this program has flourished and continues to provide a significant and meaningful service to the community,” said College of Liberal Arts dean Anne-Katrin Gramberg. “We are thankful for Kyes’ outstanding dedication and grateful to the funding agencies for recognizing what a valuable program this is. These grants ensure that even more will be done to introduce education and humanities to those who appreciate and need them.”

The program publishes an annual anthology of the photos, drawings, paintings, photos and essays prisoners produce in their classes. Other projects have included “Art on the Inside,” an exhibit hosted by Space One Eleven. Next spring, the program will hold evening classes at the studio for program participants who have been released from prison. Stevens said such offerings dovetail with what the Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project and the Department of Corrections each hope to achieve – rehabilitation through education.

“Everyone has an ability inside of them to create and communicate,” Stevens said. “Somebody has to open the door for them.”

For more information about the Prison Arts + Education Project, go to or call (334) 844-8946.

(Contributed by Vicki Santos.)

Contact: Kyes Stevens, (334) 844-8946 (, or
Mike Clardy (334) 844-9999 (

1 thought on “Auburn University prison arts program to expand services, fund pilot project with NEA grant

  1. jenny mckinney

    My father, John R. Duncan Class of 1955, was murdered at his home on Nov 19, 2006. He worked his way through school, was captain of the rifle team, a member of Delta Chi fraternity, and later served in the U.S. Army, was a loving father, successful businessman, and community leader. He sent one of my sisters to AU, and though I graduated from Stephens College, he sent me for a summer of art classes at AU. He dearly loved Auburn. I have decades of happy memories of us there.
    It is hard for me to imagine that the man who murdered my dad may be taking painting lessons from an AU outreach program. The funding is also an issue. I am really struggling with this one. Please tell me what is the profile of your typical prisoner student?

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